Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Quote of the Day: From the Last of the Red-Hot Mamas

 

“Once you start carrying your own suitcase, paying your own bills, running your own show, you’ve done something to yourself that makes you one of those women men like to call ‘a pal’ and ‘a good sport,’ the kind of woman they tell their troubles to. But you’ve cut yourself off from the orchids and the diamond bracelets, except those you buy yourself.” — Sophie Tucker

Sophie Tucker was one of the most popular entertainers of the first half of the 20th century. She was born in what is now Ukraine, on January 13, 1886, to a Jewish family who emigrated to Boston shortly after her birth, and which eventually settled in Hartford, CT, where her parents ran a restaurant.

Young Sofya loved hanging around the tables, and when she discovered her talent for singing, she would entertain the customers, and earn small tips. She later said, “[I] would stand up in the narrow space by the door and sing with all the drama I could put into it. At the end of the last chorus, between me and the onions there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.” When she turned 17, she eloped with and married Louis Tuck, the driver of the local beer cart, but the couple divorced shortly after the birth of their son, and Sofya left the baby with baba and deda. She moved to New York, taking the name “Sophie Tucker” with her for all time.

After a year or two of very slim pickings, basically reprising her youth, singing for tips in restaurants and beer gardens, Sophie debuted at an amateur vaudeville club, and she spent the next two years touring the eastern United States, performing in blackface, and singing songs of the South. She didn’t like it much and must have been relieved when her makeup kit was lost somewhere between performances sometime in 1909, and she was “allowed” to go on stage in wearing her natural complexion.

There’s no doubt that, were she alive today, Sophie would be a leader in the “body positivity” movement. She was a robust young woman who enjoyed “fat girl” songs and humor. Some of her earliest hits, like “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, but Oh, How a Fat Girl Can Love,” (Jim Croce version) dealt with the social pressures, even then, which seemed to prefer the petite, delicate, and feeble over the more strapping and amply endowed.

By the early 1920s, Tucker had her act together and a stable accompanist and musical director in Ted Shapiro, who’d stay with her, becoming part of her act on stage, as they’d wisecrack and sing their way through performances.

She rode the wave of vaudeville all the way to the end, with success on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1926, she had her biggest hit, “Some of These Days,” which stayed at #1 on the charts for five weeks. As vaudeville wound down, she made the transition to movies and radio (she had her own, thrice-weekly show in 1938-39), establishing her persona as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” a woman with an earthy, sexual side to her performances that was uncommon (in decent establishments) at the time.

She died in New York of lung and kidney failure at the age of 80, on February 9, 1966, only a few months after her last performance in the Latin Quarter. She had married twice more after the Louis Tuck episode, but both those marriages were of short duration and ended in divorce.

She was prone to attribute her matrimonial failures to her independence and her self-sufficiency, distilling the problem down to the quote at the top of this post.

Was she right to do so?

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There are 14 comments.

  1. Steve C. Member

    I think she was too busy being Sophie Tucker to spend time as Mrs. Mervin Milgram. And having read about the life led by most vaudeville performers, it was more than a full time job. Top performers were well paid, but not anywhere near the scale of modern stars. 

    • #1
    • January 13, 2020, at 7:23 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  2. She Thatcher
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    I think she was too busy being Sophie Tucker to spend time as Mrs. Mervin Milgram. And having read about the life led by most vaudeville performers, it was more than a full time job. Top performers were well paid, but not anywhere near the scale of modern stars.

    I think you’re probably right. Can you recommend a good book on the subject? 

    My Dad’s side of the family were fond of British Music Hall entertainment of the early 20th century, especially Marie Lloyd and Florrie Forde, and I’ve told the story before of Uncle Arthur, who was born in 1907, going with my grandmother down to the train station to hand out tea and cake to the arriving and departing soldiers (he died at the age of 102 in 2009, so I got this story first-hand), and there was always either patriotic or music-hall music blaring out over the primitive sound system. One day, the song was Florrie Forde singing “Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy.” Arthur, who must have been seven or eight at the time, thought she was singing to him, and started to cry. (It wasn’t that sort of song.)

    • #2
    • January 13, 2020, at 7:35 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Steve C. Member

    She (View Comment):
    I think you’re probably right. Can you recommend a good book on the subject? 

    Fred Allen’s book, Much Ado About Me, is a great read and I read it because EJ Hill suggested it.

    https://archive.org/details/muchadoaboutme006149mbp/page/n8

     

    • #3
    • January 13, 2020, at 7:44 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  4. She Thatcher
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I think you’re probably right. Can you recommend a good book on the subject?

    Fred Allen’s book, Much Ado About Me, is a great read and I read it because EJ Hill suggested it.

    https://archive.org/details/muchadoaboutme006149mbp/page/n8

     

    Thanks. I’ll have a look.

    • #4
    • January 13, 2020, at 7:47 PM PST
    • 1 like
  5. JennaStocker Member

    I think there’s a niche for every personality-especially in entertainment. I’d put Sophie Tucker in with the Lucille Balls, Carol Burnett, and Gilda Radner: In the vaudevillian style. Not necessarily the sexpots, but a certain physical confidence that exudes femininity but also approachable. And a hearty sense of humor and strong personality is what they’re known-and loved-for. But I think attributing headstrong independence to marital failure is a bit much. Maybe she didn’t meet a man who appreciated that quality. Or a successful marriage wasn’t a high enough priority in her life to give it the attention and work it needed. Sounds like she reserved that energy for her career. A very interesting life nonetheless. Great post; thanks for sharing!

    • #5
    • January 14, 2020, at 12:29 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. Vectorman Thatcher

    Join other Ricochet members by submitting a Quote of the Day post, the easiest way to start a fun conversation. There are many open days on the January Signup Sheet. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #6
    • January 14, 2020, at 3:06 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Sandy Inactive

    Thanks, She. I didn’t love listening to her as a kid, but she seems to have improved with age (mine, that is), and I loved reading your little bio.

    • #7
    • January 14, 2020, at 12:00 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. She Thatcher
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Sandy (View Comment):

    Thanks, She. I didn’t love listening to her as a kid, but she seems to have improved with age (mine, that is), and I loved reading your little bio.

    Thanks. @sandy. I read an article about Julie Andrews years ago, where she was described as “one of the last great old broads,” and I think Sophie Tucker might have been in the same league. And your comment about age reminded me of a quote that might have been used as a QOTD at some point, usually (but perhaps incorrectly) attributed to Mark Twain. It’s the one that goes: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

    • #8
    • January 15, 2020, at 2:02 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. She Thatcher
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    I think there’s a niche for every personality-especially in entertainment. I’d put Sophie Tucker in with the Lucille Balls, Carol Burnett, and Gilda Radner: In the vaudevillian style. Not necessarily the sexpots, but a certain physical confidence that exudes femininity but also approachable. And a hearty sense of humor and strong personality is what they’re known-and loved-for.

    Agree, on all counts.

    But I think attributing headstrong independence to marital failure is a bit much. Maybe she didn’t meet a man who appreciated that quality. Or a successful marriage wasn’t a high enough priority in her life to give it the attention and work it needed.

    I think it’s very likely that had a lot to do with it.

    Sounds like she reserved that energy for her career. A very interesting life nonetheless. Great post; thanks for sharing!

    Thank you! I enjoyed finding out more about her too.

     

     

    • #9
    • January 15, 2020, at 2:06 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She (View Comment):

    a quote that might have been used as a QOTD at some point, usually (but perhaps incorrectly) attributed to Mark Twain. It’s the one that goes: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

    Twain’s dad died when Twain was 11. I so wanted that quote to be his, though. It’s funny whomever said it.

    • #10
    • January 15, 2020, at 3:52 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. Arahant Member

    She (View Comment):
    “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

    And this is the reason that 14 used to be the age where a young man would be apprenticed to a trade. “Alright, kid. You’re so smart? Go earn a living.”

    • #11
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:51 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Marythefifth Member
    Marythefifth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I wonder more about the son she abandoned.

    • #12
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:51 AM PST
    • 1 like
  13. She Thatcher
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Marythefifth (View Comment):

    I wonder more about the son she abandoned.

    Yes, I wondered what happened to him, too. Did a bit of looking around, but couldn’t find anything other than a mention on this web page that there isn’t any record of what happened to him other than that he was raised by his grandparents. She was 17 when she got married, and it’s a sad story all round, but all t00 familiar.

    • #13
    • January 15, 2020, at 8:23 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Lilly B Coolidge

    That song! And what a voice! I don’t think I had ever heard of her, but I’m so glad you shared her gift with us. I think many successful women in show business have a hard time with marriage. It’s hard to be in the background, maybe especially for men. I don’t know the exact statistics, but there have been a few actresses to divorce their lesser-known actor/husbands after they win an Oscar. There can be a lot more going on in a marriage than just the issue of comparative success, but it wouldn’t shock me to find out that there are more actors with relatively successful long-term marriages to women who remain in the background than there are actresses with such husbands.

    Also, I’m using the term success in a certain way, but I recognize that success for many people does not include fame and fortune. It seems to me that a lot of people do prefer a quiet life without drama and divorce. But with a voice like Sophie Tucker, it’s likely that domestic tranquility doesn’t suit.

    • #14
    • January 15, 2020, at 4:59 PM PST
    • 1 like